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Chelsea Lose Face At Villa Park

Monday 17th March 2014
League leaders' lose ground on rivals and embarrass themselves in the process, Declan Fisher looks at what went wrong for the special one.

Manchester City showed character and class this weekend to confirm their place as favourites to lift the Premier League this season – two qualities that were patently lacking in title rivals' Chelsea's defeat at Villa Park on Saturday evening. City finished a bad week in which they've gone out of the FA cup and Champions League by winning a tricky fixture away at Hull 2-0. They had to do so without Captain Vincent Kompany for over 80 minutes, who was debatably sent off for a challenge on Nikica Jelavic. City players and staff will have enjoyed watching on as events transpired at Villa Park where Chelsea looked embarrassed and angry at full time.

At the start of the weekends football Chelsea sat nine points clear of Manchester City, having played three more games. As Jose Mourinho has relentlessly reminded us in recent weeks, City must still be the favourites, numerically at least, for their superior goal difference. Liverpool and Arsenal were both only seven points behind Chelsea, but with only one game in hand. All of those have now gained ground on the league leaders.

City's season did appear to be on the verge of unravelling when their talismanic Belgian was dismissed early on in the lunchtime kick off on Saturday. At that point it seemed easy to foresee them capitulating at the hands of Hull, a side brimming with confidence after reaching the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend (a feat of course that City couldn't manage). Nevertheless the league champions of two years ago showed steel and quality to grind out a win with only ten men (the goals came from David Silva and Edin Dzeko).

On Sunday Liverpool swept David Moyes' Manchester United team aside at Old Trafford. Steven Gerrard converted two of the three penalties his side were awarded (hitting the post with the third). Luis Suarez finished coolly with his left boot to make it 3-0 and to compound Moyes' misery. The United fans though did sing for their team until the very end; perhaps a sign of their understanding of the troubles that have faced the scot in his first season at Old Trafford. Then Arsenal beat Tottenham in the North London derby to keep up their slim hopes of clinching the Premier League title.

Chelsea though couldn't exhibit the same level of efficiency that they have for most of this season. The game was open and even for most of the first half. However, either side of the halfway point Chelsea appeared to be turning the game against Villa. They were dominant in possession but the Midlanders' defence was equal to their advances; Ron Vlaar and Joe Bennett in particular looked good at the back.

Midway through the second half Willian received a second yellow card for tripping the lively Fabien Delph. The challenge was probably not worthy of the yellow, but the impact it had on the Chelsea players was evident. Chelsea were clearly angered and as their emotions over spilt Aston Villa capitalised, Delph was central to their advances. The former Leeds man broke from midfield to pose a threat to the league's most resolute defence on a number of occasions. Villa's goal came in the 82nd minute when Delph picked up the ball, charged at the Chelsea backline, played a nice one-two with substitute Marc Albrighton before cheekily back-healing the ball into the corner of the net on the turn.
The goal was sublime but what followed was far more unsavoury. In stoppage Chelsea's frustrations turned nasty when Ramires charged down Karim El Ehmadi recklessly and stamped onto the legs of the Moroccan with both boots. It was an incident that Paul Lambert would describe as a ‘leg breaker' after the game. But Jose Mourinho felt vindicated enough by Chris Foy's decision to send Ramires off for the challenge that the Portuguese remonstrated himself into the stands and then appeared agitated and incensed in the post-match interview in which he stated that he “preferred not to comment” to almost all of the interviewers questions for fear of being accused of bringing the game into disrepute..
Declan Fisher
Journalism student at University of Salford, football enthusiast & blogger.

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